News from the September 2003
NEW THREAT TO ADA
States have what is called
“sovereign immunity” from lawsuits by their citizens. So if
you want to sue your state—except in the case of civil rights laws—you
need the state’s permission first. Now the U.S. Supreme Court will
hear the case of Tennessee v. Lane and Jones, an ADA case based
on the sovereign immunity of states.
Facts of the case: George Lane uses a wheelchair and was summoned to court
in 1996 on a traffic charge. The courthouse was and is inaccessible. Lane
crawled up the steps. On his next visit to the same court, he let the
judge know he was downstairs. The judge had him arrested for failure to
Beverly Jones, a court reporter, uses a wheelchair too. She couldn’t
get into four different county courthouses where she’d been hired
to record proceedings. She investigated and, finding 23 Tennessee courts
inaccessible, requested modifications in all. Not one court complied.
Both parties are suing the state, asking monetary damages under Title
II of the ADA. The U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the 6th Circuit have both ruled that the case could go forward. Tennessee
appealed those decisions to the Supreme Court. On June 23, the Court agreed
to hear the case, in October. Justice Antonin Scalia warned, in his separate
opinion in the 1999 Olmstead case, that the states in that case
had not asked the Court to rule on sovereign immunity. He left the door
open on that, inviting states to come in.
Since every time the ADA goes before today’s ultra-conservative
Supreme Court, we’re likely to lose, Tennessee advocates better
step up to the plate. Their job, to persuade their state attorney general,
Paul Summers, to withdraw the case, is one that ADAPT accomplished with
more than a dozen states in Olmstead and a coalition of California
advocates accomplished with the Hason case.
Are our rights civil rights? This is the Court that will decide.
BIFIDA 'NOT A DISABILITY'
In another Tennessee case, federal judge R. Allan Edgar told nine-year-old
Tiffany Masters, who has spina bifida, she won’t be allowed keep
a service animal. He ruled that “Tiffany does not have a disability
as defined by the ADA.”
SCHOOL LEFT BEHIND
Under Alleged President Bush’s
“No Child Left Behind” law, states must administer standardized
math and reading tests to all public school students and sanction schools
where students lag state standards.
However. The law allows states to define their own standards for pass
and fail. States like Texas and Michigan, not wishing to sanction their
schools and lose federal education dollars, simply lowered their standards.
Only 216 Michigan schools flunked recently, compared to 1,513 before the
state’s little adjustment.
There. All better.
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